From Sword to Plough
Ministry of Defence (Netherlands)

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
The objective of this public service project was to deal with both a social and an environmental problem. The refugee crisis has led to thousands of people in extremely vulnerable situations in Europe, dealing with bad weather, lack of food and having to cross thousands of km in different countries. At the same time, homelessness, especially after the advent of the financial crisis has been on the rise in Europe, up to 74 % in a developed country such as the Netherlands. Especially in countries where the social services system cannot provide enough support, many people have to live on the street and are exposed to the elements of nature. In particular, it is estimated that 3000-4000 people live on the streets of Prague. In order to deal with the bad weather and difficult circumstances of sleeping outside at -10 degrees, whenever homeless shelter is not available, these people need blankets and protective equipment in order to survive. On the environmental aspect of this project, the textiles industry is, according to the Danish Fashion Institute (2013), the second most polluting in the world, second only to oil. Enormous pressures are put on natural resources and the increasing amount of textile waste is either incinerated or slowly degraded in landfills leading to harmful emissions and the leaching of toxic substances to the environment. Waste management costs extra money to the companies and the public as well, thus a sustainable solution is necessary. According to Dutch social enterprise Circle Economy (see supporting document), it is estimated that 30 kilotonnes of workwear and uniforms, discarded annually in the Netherlands, are suitable for fibre recycling. If all these untapped resources were to replace virgin textile materials, the environmental impact reduction would amount to water consumption approximately equal to 104 million showers and 56000 intercontinental flights per person with regard to climate change emissions. The Dutch Ministry of Defense had been faced with the challenge of finding a sustainable and safe solution for approximately 600 tonnes of old military workwear. Historically, these uniforms were destroyed (incinerated) because of security issues associated with these materials being used again. This led to extra public costs and negative environmental impacts. However, some years ago, the Dutch Ministry of Defense saw that these used textiles could also be used again as raw materials for new products and that their Ministry could play a leading role in developing the market for high value recycling. After a tender procedure, they made a contract with the Dutch branch of the Salvation Army, through its operations company ReShare, on a mission to explore and research commercially feasible options for high value recycling of these materials. The project affected 2000 homeless people in Czech Republic who received blankets made from recycled military uniforms, while requests for 8000 more are being processed by ReShare. The preparation of the uniforms for recycling included a social work project funded by the Dutch government which employs 500 people with difficulties accessing the job market.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Discarded military uniforms from the Dutch Ministry of Defense were recycled into blankets for humanitarian aid. These blankets have been so far distributed to homeless people in Czech Republic. New products from these materials are also available soon for commercial use for the financial sustainability of the project.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The Dutch Ministry of Defense made a contract in 2012 with ReShare: Part of the Salvation Army in the Netherlands, after a tender procedure. Under this agreement, the ministry donated ReShare 600 tonnes of used military uniforms which would normally be incinerated due to security reasons, with the mission to find a more sustainable solution. During sorting of the uniforms, that ones that could be reused were sent back to the military and an innovative solution was found for the rest in order to reduce the pressure on resources for new textiles and deal at the same time with the economic and environmental burdens of waste management. These materials were sorted by a Dutch social enterprise, Biga Groep, as part of a project which employs 500 people with disabilities and difficulties accessing the job market in a social work programme. The employees of Biga Groep removed badges and emblems from the uniforms for security reasons, i.e. to make sure these would not be used by unauthorized individuals. Ever since ReShare received the uniforms in 2013, they have been investigating solutions in order to meet the ministry’s request for sustainability. Initial pilots included making polo shirts and pillows from the uniforms. The project gained full momentum in 2015: After they found a mechanical recycling company in Spain and solved technical problems regarding recycling, the refugee crisis inspired ReShare, a company with a history as part of the Salvation Army in reaching the poor and the vulnerable, to a new idea. They would make a product that would be both environmentally sustainable and would also be of relief to people in need. The idea was to recycle the military uniforms into blankets that could be used for humanitarian relief. As mentioned above, the initial thought of ReShare was to make blankets for the refugees. Eventually, the humanitarian organisations for refugees gathered enough blankets due to donations and then ReShare directed these products to homeless people in Prague. According to estimations, 3000-4000 people are homeless in Czech Republic and when temperatures drop below freezing in the winter it is vital to have blankets to keep people alive. The Salvation Army in Czech Republic delivered 2000 blankets to these people and has several requests are in process for the rest 8000which were produced in Spain. The project had both social and environmental benefits. The Amsterdam-based social enterprise Circle Economy measured the environmental impacts of the production of recycled blankets using Life Cycle Assessment. The results showed 87 % reduce in water consumption, 42 % in energy use and 33 % less greenhouse gas emissions for producing yarns for the blankets from recycled materials instead of virgin ones. Thanks to proper blending of the used materials during recycling, no dyeing was necessary which avoided the toxicity impacts to humans and the environment from this process.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
This initiative is unique in that it combines an innovative approach that brings both humanitarian aid and environmental benefits, as well as leads to a useful product. Used military uniforms cannot be used again by other organisations, because of security issues. So far the only option was disposal through waste management processes, such as incineration for energy recovery, which in this project was avoided thanks to recycling. Furthermore, instead of producing new blankets for humanitarian aid, recycled ones were used which also have better environmental performance. For example, the smart blend of used uniforms enabled the recycling process to make blankets of the desired colour, without dyeing, thus reducing the environmental impact. Finally, even though other projects have been attempted recently in textile recycling, few have had the scale of this one, with 10000 blankets in the first batch and a final product of high quality. To ensure that such initiatives can continue to contribute value to the society and the environment, profitable products are necessary. The creative path was the production of new picnic blankets from recycled military police uniforms which are intended for commercial use and have already received very positive feedback from the market.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
In 2012, the Dutch Ministry of Defense and The Salvation Army entered into an agreement: from that point on, all redundant uniforms distributed by the Ministry’s Clothing and Personal Equipment Unit would be donated to The Salvation Army. The project was initiated by the Dutch Ministry of Defense, which amongst others is responsible for supporting civil authorities in case of emergencies and giving humanitarian aid both inside and outside the Netherlands. Project manager from the Ministry was Lieutenant-Colonel Rob van Arnhem, Category Manager of the Workwear Department. The initiative was implemented by ReShare: Part of the Salvation Army, with project manager Michel Rosenquist. The Salvation Army is a non-profit organisation that works around the world, with one of the goals to collect and distribute second-hand clothing. Over the past 125 years, the Salvation Army has developed a comprehensive logistics network, efficiently handling all aspects of its operational management in-house through its ReShare division, processing some 26 million kg of donated clothing per year, in the Netherlands. In order for the redundant uniforms and utility clothing to no longer be mistaken – or resold – as military apparel, Biga Groep, a Dutch social enterprise, arranged that badges and emblem were removed. Biga Groep’s employees are part of a social-work project funded by the Dutch government, which gives opportunities to 500 people with disabilities and difficulty accessing the job market. The goal of the company is to help these people develop themselves for a suitable job. From the end product so far, 2000 blankets have been donated homeless people in Czech Republic and requests are being processed at the moment for the rest 8000 that were produced.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Lieutenant-Colonel Rob van Arnhem, from the Dutch Ministry of Defense signed a contract with ReShare: Part of the Salvation Army in 2012. The deal was that the Ministry would donate its used military uniforms, which would have normally been incinerated for security reasons, to ReShare, in order for a more sustainable solution to be found. In order to recycle the military material into new fibres, uniforms needed to be cleaned from badges and emblems, which was done by Dutch social enterprise Biga Groep, in a social work programme co-funded by the Dutch government, which employs 500 people with disabilities and difficulty entering the job market. The project started in March 2013, when 600 tonnes of used military uniforms were delivered to ReShare. Initially, ReShare ran small trials themselves to identify potential applications of the used military clothing. Initial experiments included using the fabric as it was and producing items such as pillows. They came soon to the conclusion that innovation was needed in order to scale up the initiative. ReShare initiated a pilot with a partner in Italy (2014) to mechanically recycle the fibres of these uniforms and to create yarn for new polo shirts. However, this recycling technology shortens the textile fibres, which decreased the quality and strength of the final product. Thus, this was not suitable for the production of clothing, unless blended with virgin fibres. Indeed, the new fabric was torn during the production. ReShare therefore looked for a different solution for the used uniforms. In 2015, they hired Amsterdam-based social enterprise Circle Economy, which introduced them to Recover, a Spanish mechanical recycler with more than 100 years of history in the field of textiles. In April 2015, they started communication with Recover and made small steps into new products. Being involved in humanitarian relief efforts during the refugee crisis, the management of ReShare was inspired to produce blankets for humanitarian aid. In November 2015, Recover successfully made recycled yarns out of the used uniforms and their Spanish partner Vialman, produced the blankets. However, Salvation Army’s partners at the refugee front had received enough humanitarian aid from various donors, so ReShare directed these blankets into helping homeless people in Czech republic, through the local Salvation Army branch, which has been present since the early 1990s. As of today, 2000 people have received blankets in Czech Republic, which counts 3000-4000 homeless. At the moment, ReShare is processing requests for the rest 8000 blankets that were produced. In 2016, Circle Economy measured the environmental performance of the initiative with Life Cycle Assessment, which highlighted the environmental benefits producing recycled yarns for the blankets instead of virgin ones. The Dutch Ministry of Defense donated the used clothing, saving €500000 of incineration costs. Throughout the entire timeline, ReShare funded the project on their own, which cost approx. €100000, including recycling, transportation and other processes. The first batch produced 10000 blankets. Now ReShare is looking into new solutions for the rest of the military materials to ensure the financial sustainability of the project and pilots have been carried out by Recover. Since using very high recycled content weakens the yarns and the fabric, for these applications Recover added some percentage of organic cotton to complement the recycled composition. The new products include the production of a picnic blanket, which can be sold at a higher price and has already received positive feedback from the market and further new items include a polo T-Shirt and a hoodie.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
This was a project that included a variety of stakeholders including government, NGOs and businesses. Lieutenant-Colonel Rob van Arnhem, Category Manager of the Workwear department in the Ministry of Defense initiated the project and Michel Rosenquist from ReShare: Part of the Salvation Army in the Netherlands was the project manager. ReShare undertook the majority of the design and implementation of the project. They scheduled the initial pilots and they supervised the steps that led to the final product. Another organisation, Dutch social enterprise Biga Groep, undertook the cleaning of the uniforms from emblems and badges with their social work programme, employing 500 people with disabilities and difficulty accessing the job market. Both Biga Groep and ReShare hold among others ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certifications for quality and environmental management systems respectively. ReShare contacted social enterprise Circle Economy from the Netherlands, which brought them in contact with Recover, a textiles recycler and yarn producer from Spain. Recover has been awarded the Global Recycling Standard Certificate of Compliance for their yarns. Recover processed the cleaned uniforms into recycled yarns and their partner Vialman, also in Spain, produced the blankets for humanitarian aid. Circle Economy performed a Life Cycle Assessment to measure the environmental performance of the initiative. The Czech branch of the Salvation Army delivered the blankets to homeless people of Prague.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
This project helped avoid the destruction of valuable resources and greenhouse gas emissions (SDG Goal 13 – Climate Action), which would have happened through incineration of the used uniforms due to security reasons and saved €500000 of Dutch public money from waste management costs. Also, it created a good quality product in larger scale, as 10000 blankets were produced that are suitable for humanitarian aid. New products, such as the 50 % recycled – 50 % organic cotton sustainable picnic blanket produced for ReShare by its partner Recover from military police uniforms has received positive feedback from the market. This can enable the financial sustainability of the project for years to come and inspire similar initiatives (Goal 9). The project led to concrete environmental benefits for production, consistent with SDG Goal 12. The results showed 87 % reduction in water consumption, 42 % in energy use and 33 % less greenhouse gas emissions for producing yarns from recycled materials instead of virgin ones. With proper blending of the recycled materials, no dyeing was necessary which alleviated the toxicity impacts to humans and the environment from this process. Humanitarian benefits where achieved, since 2000 homeless people in Czech Republic received these recycled blankets to help them stay warm in the freezing winters of Prague (Goal 3). Moreover, the cleaning of badges and emblems from the uniforms was part of a social work project by Dutch enterprise Biga Groep which employs 500 people with difficulty accessing the job market, stimulating inclusiveness (Goal 8). This project is funded by the Dutch government. In conclusion, the objectives of a sustainable solution for the military uniforms were met, as seen from the Life Cycle Assessment results, the economic burden of incineration was alleviated and at the same time people in need got products to help them. Requests for the rest of the stock are being processed at the moment by ReShare. Finally, new products are available to ensure the financial sustainability of the project and it has inspired other initiatives elsewhere. Moreover, all products were made in Europe, in low-risk countries, from certified partners, to make sure that they are made by workers who are properly paid and work in humane working conditions.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
There were three main obstacles which were encountered during the implementation of the project. The first challenge was scaling up the production of the recycled blankets to produce 10000 pieces, all funded by ReShare themselves. Since the uniforms included military badges, these had to be removed for security reasons, in a financially sensible way. For this purpose, Biga Groep a Dutch organisation employing people with disabilities and difficulty entering the job market, as part a state-co-funded social work programme, undertook the task at a lower cost. Another problem was the unfamiliarity with working with recycled material and the technical issues that were included in the process. For example, in the initial pilot, while trying to make a polo shirt with an Italian company, the recycled fabric was not of sufficient strength and was torn in the process. This problem was solved, when ReShare contacted Dutch social enterprise Circle Economy who used their network to introduce them to Spanish mechanical recycler Recover. Together with Recover, ReShare searched for new applications for the recycled material, and due to the refugee crisis at that time, it was decided that a blanket for humanitarian aid was to be produced. Another challenge was to produce a blanket of sufficient quality that could also be sold in the market to ensure the financial sustainability of the project. Recycled content in the refugee blanket was 80 %. Despite meeting up the requirements for a humanitarian aid blanket, it was necessary to reduce the content to 50 % and to complement that with organic cotton in order to produce a blanket suitable for commercial use and still be environmentally friendly.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The project avoided the incineration of 600 tonnes of used military uniforms, which would normally cost €500000 to the Dutch taxpayer. These were incinerated in the first place to avoid falling into the hands of unauthorized individuals. Removal of badges and military emblems was necessary if recycling was to take place. Through Dutch social enterprise Biga Groep, the cost of removing these was lowered and a business case for recycling was possible. The latter was part of a state co-funded project which employs 500 people with disabilities and difficulty accessing the job market. The goal of the project is to help people develop themselves for a suitable job, thus promoting social inclusiveness. 30 % of the cleaned uniforms were later deemed suitable for reuse by the military and they were returned. The rest were used by ReShare, the operational part of Salvation Army in the Netherlands, to investigate recycling options. ReShare allocated €100000 from its own funds to pilot different options for recycling these uniforms. The end result was a high quality blanket which could be used for humanitarian aid, such as for refugees, the homeless and victims of natural disasters. Furthermore, it proved to the textiles industry that this can be implemented in a larger scale, as 10000 blankets were produced. 2000 of these blankets were deployed in Czech Republic though the local Salvation Army to homeless people in Prague. ReShare is now processing requests for the rest 8000 blankets, as there is interest from various organisations. All products were made in Europe, with main production in Spain, in order to make sure that proper working conditions are met. New products, such as the 50 % recycled – 50 % organic cotton sustainable picnic blanket produced for ReShare by its partner Recover from military police uniforms have received positive feedback from the market. This can enable the financial sustainability of the project for years to come and inspire similar initiatives. The environmental benefits of the project were measured with Life Cycle Assessment, by the Dutch social enterprise Circle Economy. The project produced concrete environmental benefits. The results showed 87 % reduction in water consumption, 42 % in energy use and 33 % less greenhouse gas emissions for producing yarns from recycled materials instead of virgin ones. With proper blending of the recycled materials, no dyeing was necessary which avoided the toxicity impacts to humans and the environment from this process. In conclusion, the objectives for a sustainable solution for the military uniforms were met, as seen from the Life Cycle Assessment results. The economic burden of incineration was avoided and at the same time people in need received products to protect them. Social inclusiveness was promoted by including people with distance to the job market in the production and the production tool place in low-risk countries by certified partners. Finally, new products are available to ensure the financial sustainability of the project and it has inspired other initiatives elsewhere.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Not Applicable

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
Not Applicable

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Ministry of Defence (Netherlands)
Institution Type:   Ministry  
Contact Person:   Rob van Arnhem
Title:   Category Manager for Workwear  
Telephone/ Fax:   +31703188188
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   rwt.v.arnhem@mindef.nl  
Address:   Plein 4
Postal Code:   2500 ES
City:   The Hague
State/Province:   Zuid Holland
Country:  

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